The 2018 Standard Bank Ovation Award-winning play Sainthood, which interrogates all-boys school culture, written and directed by Tiisetso Mashifane wa Noni, comes to the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from 6 to 23 February, at 19:30, with Saturday matinees at 15:00.
The play was moulded out of pure curiosity on the part of the writer and director, who began the creative process after listening to the stories of some of her male friends – former “saints” boys. The “saints” refers to private schools with the title “Saint” in their names, alluding to the Anglo-Saxon religious culture and history of these exclusive institutions.
A former “saints” girl herself, she had a good idea what she was dealing with: While some of the experiences were delightful, others were completely petrifying. This dichotomy gave rise to the birth of this essential and vibrant work.
“Adolescence is such an important developmental stage in one’s life and we spend most of it at school. And more often than not, we brush it off as something fleeting, when it can be so defining to one’s early adult character,” Mashifane wa Noni said.
“I wanted to revert the trope as a ʻsurvival of the fittestʼ representation of South African private schools’ culture.”
“I have watched countless representations of popular high-school culture and most of them are usually quite whimsical and animated in nature. I wanted to revert the trope as a ʻsurvival of the fittestʼ representation of South African private schools’ culture that shows that it is not as glamorous as it is so often portrayed.”
She has assembled a hugely talented, all-male cast comprising recent University of Cape Town (UCT) graduates Adam Lennox, Tevin Musara, Cullum McCormack, Mphumzi Nontshinga and Simphiwe Shabalala.
Sainthood follows five fictional matric boys in a fictional private school through a non-fictional narrative – created from stories from books, newspaper articles and anonymous interviews with “saints” boys – that covers a range of topics, from sexuality to racism.
The play is a minimalist and intense theatre experience that uses elements of physical theatre and chorus work through an escalating episodic structure that is led through a turbulent see-saw between masculinity and femininity that the characters either embrace or beat to death.
The fictitious St Gabriel’s, one of South Africa’s most elite private schools, prides itself on a stellar reputation in moulding men of stature, who will hopefully have a positive impact on South African society.
The school goes above and beyond to make sure that its students have the best teachers, coaches, equipment and school pride. Anything that threatens this sanctity is rectified with immediate effect and anyone who affronts the system is dealt with swiftly and in accordance with the traditions and rules of the school.
With recent outcries caused by incidents at unisex schools such as the Pretoria Girls’ High hair policy saga of 2016, the St John’s College racist educator incident of 2017 and the Parktown Boys’ High sexual assault tragedy of 2018, Sainthood is not saying anything new. It’s just saying something that has been kept quiet for far too long.
Mashifane wa Noni not only writes and directs, but is also a choreographer and performer. With a Bachelor of the Arts degree in political science, philosophy and drama from Rhodes University, and a Bachelor of the Arts (Honours) in Directing for Stage, Writing for Film and Avant-Garde Film from UCT, she attempts to make a provocative work that deals with themes of violence, sexuality, race and history within a contemporary South African setting.
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